The other day I was having lunch with an agnostic friend. He’s the kind of agnostic friend who pushes me to give honest answers to real questions, and I like that.
We’re both quite involved in trying to make things better for the least fortunate people on the planet, and somehow (I can’t quite remember how), we got to talking about why we do that. And then he said something that completely floored me. He said, “I can see how being religious would be a real help there, because you believe that after you die, you’re going to be rewarded for the good you’ve done. That would be a really effective motivator”.
The reason those words surprised me so much is because I can’t honestly remember the last time this entered my mind. If the truth be told, I never think about eternal rewards when I’m contemplating doing some good deed. And conversely, when I’m being tempted, I never motivate myself to avoid temptation by thinking about potential eternal punishments. To be honest, I actually don’t find that to be a very effective deterrent.
So what do I think about? Why do Christians try to put the teaching of Jesus into practice, if it’s not out of a desire for heaven or out of fear of hell?
I can’t speak for all Christians, but for myself, I can say this with some certainty: it’s because I genuinely believe that Jesus is right. I believe that the way of life he taught and demonstrated – love of God and neighbour, not storing up too many possessions, forgiving and being reconciled, caring for the poor, speaking the truth, faithfulness in marriage and so on – is the best and most rewarding way to live. And I believe that as more of us follow Jesus and learn that way of life, then life will get better for everyone and everything on planet earth.
Jesus taught us a short way of expressing that, in the form of a prayer. It goes like this: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’.
That’s why I follow Jesus. It’s not because of rewards and punishments. It’s because I’m convinced that on the day that prayer is fully answered, life on God’s green earth will be a dream come true. And I want to be one of the ones who helps make that happen.